Why virtual reality fitness is something to watch, understand and stay on top of in the coming years.
When thinking of ways to integrate technology into your members’ fitness routines, you probably consider heart rate trackers, integrated machines and smart watches. However, there is one other area you should keep an eye on — virtual reality (VR) fitness.
While an out-of-the-box idea, the proof is in the acquisitions.
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has been buying up VR fitness brands over the last few years. In 2014, the company acquired Oculus VR, which rebranded to Meta Quest in 2022.
In April 2022, Meta announced users will be able to integrate their Oculus Move data — such as calories burned or how long you’ve been physically active across any game or app in VR— with Apple Health. And, most recently, Meta acquired Supernatural — a VR fitness subscription service — for $400 million, proving the push for VR fitness.
Jon Brady, the president at Midtown Athletic Clubs, attended the Game Developers Conference earlier this year to learn and understand how technology in the gaming industry can affect consumers and, more importantly, health clubs after an increase of demand in hybrid options due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think when we were in COVID-19, it accelerated the online demand for activity,” said Brady. “We were able to deliver that using Instagram and Facebook classes, and different platforms — Intelivideo, Forte and some of those other online platforms — and we all sort of jumped into. But I really think the next wave of this is within VR and how it connects to our overall wellness. At the gaming convention, it was very much centered around VR and using haptics and sensor technology.”
While Brady doesn’t think clubs should be worried about VR yet due to the technology not being fully developed, he does think it’s important for operators to at least start thinking about.
Another expert who thinks clubs should start considering VR fitness is Ralph Rajs, the COO of Black Box VR.
“As the number of VR fitness apps continues to explode on the market, clubs need to be figuring out how they’re going to bring a VR fitness solution into their clubs to stay ahead of the curve and, frankly, stay competitive,” said Rajs.
He explained VR fitness is an important and attractive selling point for current members and a great differentiator for the vast — and rapidly growing — gaming population that is new to fitness. Most importantly, it’s fun.
“VR takes the ‘work’ out of workout and introduces fitness to a whole new segment of the population that is already playing in the VR space,” explained Rajs. “With so much focus on fitness-oriented programs, operators need to be aware of what their members are being marketed and what their friends are talking about in the fitness space so they can understand how to program and keep their members engaged.”
In addition to being fun, the VR fitness space is also growing exponentially. According to Allied Market Research, the global online and virtual fitness market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 33.1% from 2020 to 2027.
According to Rajs, this kind of growth attracts a lot of interest from the investment community and from game developers looking to create the next killer app. He also suggested with more home use, the acceptance and demand for in-club VR workouts will grow. While you may think VR fitness is an out-of-the-box idea, it could be key to attracting future members as the fitness industry continues to evolve.
“It’s something to watch, understand and stay on top of because it’s growing exponentially,” said Rajs. “Current operators need to think beyond their established paradigm of what fitness is and be ready to embrace this shift toward combining VR, fitness and gaming. Understanding how gaming psychology can help with exercise adherence may be the key to unlocking better retention rates for club operators and to attracting a broader fitness audience.”